Life Without Parole – Limbo

prison, life behind bars, locked up, corridor, jail, bars, Spoon Jackson, LWOP, parole, Spoon Jackson Poet, death penalty

Spoon Jackson contemplates his life without parole.

Today I ponder LWOP—life without parole—and the death penalty, how LWOP is the only sentence forever in limbo. People are battling to do away with the death penalty and to bring dates to non-LWOP lifers, and that is all a most worthy fight and cause. Yet, there is virtually no one other than brother Ken Hartman and The Other Death Penalty Project fighting from inside prison to end this travesty of injustice and inhumanity, and the hopes of bringing light and change to LWOP sentences, especially the ones imposed on youth under 21 or even 25 years old.

In most civilized countries a life sentence is ten to twenty years at the most, especially for youth or first time offenders. For LWOPs there is nothing, even though there are numerous credible ways to measure the deep changes that occur inside a LWOP prisoner. Lifers as a whole have the lowest recidivism rates; hardly any come back into prison for a capital crime, petty crime if anything. Most lifers, especially the older LWOPs, just want to live a little before they die. I am speaking of LWOPs with 30 or 40 years in prison.

I have served the equivalent of three life sentences in most civilized countries, especially for a youth and first termer. I just want to get out and die in old age peacefully.

Yet, I sit here with dashed hopes and dreams buried in a pit. Longing for a life, for female companionship, to see where my mum, dad, grandma and other family members and friends are buried. No one choose to share this LWOP endless path with me. My hope fades from many directions. After so many years in prison the hope, that deep spring well of magic, could bring someone to commune with on this journey is now a distant dream. How do I leave this shadow that seems only to be getting darker? I don’t know. At this moment I feel too unworthy to even consider to ask someone to share this narrow path of LWOP with me. A path with fire on one side and a pit on the other. No matter how deep the longing and pain grows. Yes, I can do this alone, because it gets harder to tap the realness pool inside. It will be better tomorrow and perhaps tomorrow is another life. My heart and soul is like browned grasses in a field right now.


Read more from Spoon Jackson in Poet Behind Bars on The Good Life.

Image credit: For91days/Flickr

About Spoon Jackson

Poet/writer/artist/teacher. In prison since 1977. I had two books published in 2010 “Longer Ago Poems by Spoon Jackson” and “By Heart Poetry, Prison, And Two Lives”, a double memoir by Judith Tannenbaum and me. I've been featured in films, plays, articles, books and music suites. I've found my niche in life despite being in prison for over 35 years. I have found that prisons are created internally and are truly found everywhere. I have also discovered that the secrets to break down prison walls are inside each person and I treasure sharing this realness with people. I keep my light glowing through expressing my inner thoughts, vibes and feelings in my poetry and prose writing. Write to me! Address on the blog: Spoon Jackson Realness Network.


  1. Karen Bernal says:

    Spoon, please remember that those of us who have followed your story and books are with you! I admire your courage and want you to know that you should never, ever, feel unworthy. It makes me sad to know that a lot of people never seem to move beyond punishment – and yet we know that there is always a reality that has to come next. Our culture loves to hate, yet fears to experience redemption and forgiveness. My belief in the power of redemption is so strong, that I cannot imagine life without it – it is my religion. And the thing about it is that EVERYONE wants to be redeemed in their own lives – everyone. We only brutalize our selves when we deny it to others. I have no doubt in my mind that there are many in prison who go through epiphanies, self realizations and transformations. I think it’s immoral to not consider a person who does. I agree with Christine – keep the spirit going – you are in our thoughts.

  2. hippiechick says:

    First, let me say I am actually very empathetic to your situation. I have always been opposed to the death penalty and feel it’s cruel and unusual punishment, but I never thought of LWOP that way. To me, it seemed like a fair alternative to living out your days on death row, and the constant stress of never knowing if or when that awful day would actually come. Thinking about it now, I think I would probably be okay if the man who killed my dad were released from prison in 30 years… but he would be 80+ then. If he had only been 25 at the time of the crime, and were to be released at 55, I think I might feel differently. My dad was only 64; he had plenty of good years left. It seems unfair that another man should be allowed to “enjoy” those years when my father cannot. Also, I wonder if your sentence had been “only” 30 years, do you think your time behind bars would have progressed in exactly the same way? Perhaps you were only able to make such an about face because you KNEW there was no hope otherwise. And I have no statistics to fall back on, but I have to believe that you are more of an exception that a rule as far as prison behavior is concerned. I do believe that our prison system is terribly flawed and also horribly skewed as far as race is concerned, but alas I have no answers whatsoever. I hope that you can continue to use your positive attitude and energy to make your punishment seem less cruel.

  3. Christine says:

    We are here with you, Spoon! Never under estimate the work “you” are doing to bring attention to this revenge sentence and human rights violation. Your exemplary life behind bars, a life of poetry, writing, music and teaching has demonstrated to so many the value of those left behind, that cannot be buried by the concrete cages they build, even though they try, your soul has burst through!

  4. Wirbelwind says:

    What did you do to earn life without parole ?
    And a “life sentence” resulting in 10 years behind bars is a mockery.

  5. Madeleine says:

    I am not in jail, never been, but strangely enough I know how you fell. My dream in life was to know love. I thought I was to damaged to attract a good man, so I worked on myself, from therapy to meditation for 35 years. Now I am whole but love never came, and meantime I have gotten old. I realized that wherever I am right now, is where with all likelihood I am going to spend the rest of my life. The only thing left to do is helping the body survive in a reasonable state of good health until its last day. I feel like a deer caught in the headlights, I am stunned at this turn of events, this lack of future.
    And yet, that is not it. Sometimes there is such breathtaking joy in picking up a pencil, such ecstasy in breathing, almost physical pleasure in noticing myself do something stupid and just let it happen without condemnation.
    I am very confused by these two extreme and opposite forces ruling my life. I don’t understand why I am in a body, living in this world, and yet so separate from it. Maybe it is not about living on the outside of oneself, taking from the world, but about living inside the body and giving to the world. I don’t know if I am making any sense. I am still trying to figure it out.

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